Medical debt collections haunt one of every five Central Florida families.
Collection agencies buy much of that debt for pennies on the dollar and demand payment in full.
got Channel 9 to buy $1 million in debt that will be forgiven, providing relief to families in need.
Kim Samsel and her husband are drowning in medical debt.
Collection agencies have sent the couple letters, demanding that they pay $35,000 in hospital and doctor bills.
"They put me back on steroid treatment," Samsel said.
Although she has medical insurance, her daily struggle with Crohn's disease won’t end.
"I was having a lot of pain," Samsel said. "I was having a lot of issues."
The most recent time her inflammatory bowel illness flared up, she refused to visit a hospital, because she feared she’d rack up bills she wouldn’t be able to pay.
"It's scary, because I want to be healthy," Samsel said. "I know that's not possible for me, because there's no cure for Crohn's. It'll come back for the rest of my life."
She said she dreads checking her mail or answering the phone.
"It seems like they're more aggressive when it comes to medical debt," said Kenny Samsel, Kenny Samsel's husband. "They make you feel guilty, because you've been sick."
Debt that hospitals and doctors can't collect is sold to collection agencies.
When patients don’t pay the debt, it’s sold again. Some agencies add interest and penalties, causing the amount owed to increase.
Families could be one illness or accident away from financial ruin because of medical debt, which is the most common cause of personal bankruptcy.
RIP Medical Debt is a national charity that helps debt-saddled families.
To demonstrate how medical debt collections affect so many lives, Channel 9 is working with the charity to forgive medical debt owed by hundreds of Central Florida families.
Through the charity, Channel 9 paid $12,500 to buy $1 million worth of medical debt owed by its viewers -- the price debt collectors pay.
Channel 9 is forgiving every penny of that debt.
"No. 1 they'll never be called again on that particular bill," said Jerry Ashton, of RIP Medical Debt. "No. 2 it won't be on their credit report."
RIP Medical selects families based on financial need. Channel 9 won't learn their names or medical issues, but it’s certain to help families such as the Samsels.
"Is there any way out?" Ulrich said.
"There's a lot of days that I think there's not," Kim Samsel said.
Letters will be mailed next week to hundreds of Central Florida families, informing them that their debt has been forgiven. They’ll receive a yellow envelope with "RIP Medical Debt" printed in the corner.
Those who receive such a letter shouldn't throw them away, and they may click here to share their story with Action 9.
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